Thursday, August 8, 2013

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Long-Tailed Mice

My son has been playing with the gene sequencer again. Honestly, I try not to let him run around unsupervised - especially in the lab - but he's too quick for my current assistant, the indomitable Ms. Taft, and the others are distracted by their duties. (Commendably so, I might add.) Drake, for example, is extremely good with the boy - but he also has a strict schedule of feedings, waterings, exercisings, and cleaning enclosures in the Crypto-Zoo, and for him that schedule takes precedence over everything else. This makes him very little help with my son, but it represents a substantial improvement over his predecessor, the late and unlamented Mr. Howell.

Moreover, ever since our first attempt at creating a Hippofishimus, my son has been interested in creating new and better forms of life. His ideas on how best to go about this have changed several times over the years, but I can't deny that there's a distinct theme to his interests. So this discovery, while unexpected, was hardly a surprise.

It began simply enough: Drake mentioned that some sort of small rodents had been chewing their way into his feed bins. This happens sometimes, and we usually solve it with small mechanical drones: hunter-killers programmed to eliminate small targets. This time, however, the drones proved ineffective. Drake brought me the broken pieces of two of them. That was unusual, but we've dealt with stubborn pests before: a combination of motion sensors and chlorine gas (along with a mask for the Cryptozookeeper) usually does the trick. This time...

Well, the bins remained intact, but we lost one of the Chupacabras from the zoo itself. The beast had suffered from several small bites, but when I dissected it I found that it had actually died of strangulation. Considering the timing, I hadn't expected anything of the sort, so my first thought was that something must have escaped from elsewhere in the Crypto-Zoo. Drake and I conducted a thorough inspection, and found... nothing. Everything was in its place; nothing was missing. Even the Torglind Metamorph was right where we left it, pretending to be a rock in the hope that one of us would be stupid enough to step into its enclosure.

At that point, we gave up for the night. Drake went back to his suite, and I took the secret elevator back up to the house. It happens to come out in the kitchen, so I immediately noticed that the refrigerator door was open. It looked like a furry snake had slithered up inside.

I flipped on the light, and opened the door, and that's when I saw it: a long-tailed mouse. Its body was mouse-sized, but it was the tiny front end of a tail that was nearly a full meter long. When it saw me and fled, it was half running and half slithering. It went into a small hole in the wall, and when I put my ear by the opening I could hear chittering from many, many throats.

My house, as part of the lab, has a number of defenses built into it. I retreated to the safe room, sealed the door, and sounded the alert so that my staff could get to safety. Then I activated a couple of the anti-viral measures, and sent the pest control drones in to clean up the rest.

This was, it seemed, completely effective. According to the drones, both my house and the lab below are completely free of long-tailed mice. So I went to sleep in relative confidence, and it was only the next morning that it occurred to me to call my son (at his mother's house) and ask if he had created them. He had, of course, so I congratulated him and apologized for destroying them.

An hour later I called him back, because the drones had returned a zero kill count. Not only had they not killed anything, they hadn't found anything to kill. They hadn't even found any remains. In terms of cleanup, this was ideal. In terms of ecological balance... who knows? They understood the alert, or else they just panicked, and they fled. They are still alive out there, somewhere - in a neighbor's house, or somewhere further afield. They might be plotting revenge, or they might just be eating and breeding. They might be solving quadratic equations, for all I know.

Wherever they are, they aren't dead.

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